In the spring of 1883, Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt threw the grandest party New York had ever seen, claiming her spot at the top of the city’s social hierarchy. The Gilded Age drove feverish growth in America’s cities. Populations swelled. Skyscrapers and steel bridges soared above city skylines. And the new economic elite poured their outrageous fortunes into magnificent mansions and lavish balls.
But there were two sides to Gilded Age cities. Less than a mile away from Manhattan’s elegant brownstones, the poor eked out a living in sooty factories and crowded slums. In the 1880s and 1890s, reformers rose up to challenge inequality—galvanizing workers and exposing the dark underbelly of urban growth.
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